36. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

3375. Ref: State 131591.2

Akalovsky phoned Hoang Man’Tu 11:42 hours February 4 to arrange meeting today. Latter was out of office and failed call back as requested by Akalovsky. When Akalovsky called again at 10:20 today, Tu said he had not received message Saturday.3 He called back at 10:50, saying Le Chang very busy today and could receive DCM at 13:00 tomorrow. Noted, however, that if, as Akalovsky had indicated, we really wanted meeting ASAP, he would check with Le Chang again. Having been told we would prefer meeting today, Tu said would call within hour if such meeting possible. He did so five minutes later, suggesting meeting at 13:00 today provided it would not last beyond 14:00, when Le Chang had another commitment. We agreed.
Meeting was attended by same participants as last time and lasted 35 minutes. DCM opened by recalling at February 2 meeting Le Chang asked certain questions re U.S. paper he received on that date, some of which DCM had answered himself and some he said would refer to Washington. Noting Le Chang had asked about specific meaning of sentence re public broadcast by DRV of essence its January 27 message, and particularly if reference was to Trinh-Burchett interview, [Page 84] DCM said he had been instructed deliver answer to that question in writing and gave Le Chang paper per para 2 reftel.
After translation of paper, on which Le Chang made no comment, DCM said that in connection U.S. February 2 message4 he also wished refer again to final paragraph that message, which he quoted. Added that U.S. would be most interested in Hanoi’s reaction to our various messages on urgent basis.
Le Chang inquired if para DCM just quoted was identical to that contained in Feb 2 message or modified version thereof. When DCM said he had quoted para verbatim from message but had also made an additional statement, Le Chang requested that latter be repeated.
Pointing out that he turning to somewhat different subject, DCM then referred to Estabrook Feb 5 WashPost story of which he gave Le Chang brief oral summary based on State 131700.5 Said he mentioned story because he instructed tell Le Chang that story had come from Polish sources and that U.S. Govt will maintain complete silence and avoid comment on it.
As Le Chang indicated he had no comment to make at this point, DCM said he wished raise a matter of operational nature. Noting that both sides had been concerned to maintain their contact confidential and secret (Le Chang expressed full agreement with this), DCM said we concerned about certain aspects of this: (A) Soviets would know about his visits to DRV Embassy, e.g., his driver Soviet; and (B) it always possible Western correspondents might see him enter or leave DRV Embassy and ask him what he doing here. If (B) should occur, he could not deny his visit, and problem would be how to respond to questions. One possibility would be to confirm that contact had been established and refuse further comment. If we kept quiet, there might be implication that we discussing POWs. DCM said all this led him to ask if we should arrange another meeting place. Should we ask Soviets to provide us a less conspicuous place? While stressing we had no fixed ideas about this matter, reiterated our concern and invited Le Chang’s comment.
Le Chang said it his side’s view, as well as previous mutual agreement, that all these exchanges should be confidential and secret. This connection, he wished reiterate DRV position not to make public [Page 85]these exchanges, either through Western correspondents or any other people. Re place of meeting, Le Chang emphatically stated his view was that we should not ask any third party to arrange for a change of venue, because of principle of confidentiality and secrecy he had mentioned. Also said he wanted reiterate that time or content of meetings should not be mentioned to anybody, including correspondents. As to how any possible press query should be answered, said he was sure that if this principle were abided by, many ways of responding could be found. In response DCM’s comment correspondents would indulge in guessing, Le Chang said if they wanted to guess they could do so. Reverting to question of locus, Le Chang thought that if venue were changed many additional people would know about our contact; he thus did not believe such change would be in “our” interest, if only from standpoint of avoiding distortions by correspondents, especially Western.
DCM asked if Le Chang was suggesting that in case any possible press inquiry DCM should make a no comment response. However, Le Chang refused to be pinned down, saying merely it up to DCM—who surely experienced this regard—how to respond while preserving principle of secrecy. DCM reiterated that while we had no fixed ideas we concerned about problem, and expressed appreciation for Le Chang’s comments.
Le Chang closed meeting by saying he would report today’s exchange to his govt but that “for time being” he had no further comment.
On way out, Akalovsky raised with Tu question of ensuring more effective communication, with particular reference to Tu’s failure receive his message February 4. Specifically, Akalovsky asked if in Tu’s absence he should identify himself to anyone else receive his call or leave messages for Tu. In what seems indicate NVN’s concern about leaks, including by their own personnel, Tu immediately responded Akalovsky should not identify himself; rather, he should speak Russian and leave message for Tu to call a fictitious Russian, using a mutually agreed code name for that purpose. He suggested, and we agreed, use “Ivanov” in such contingencies.6
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER. Top Secret; Nodis; Sunflower. Received at 11:09 a.m.
  2. In telegram 131591 to Moscow, February 3, the Department asked that Guthrie inform Chang that the U.S. Government’s reference to the DRV’s public broadcast of the January 27 message referred to the essence of the message being released in the statement made by Trinh and comments contained in the Nhan Dan article. In addition, Chang should be informed that the Governments of both Egypt and India had passed messages from DRV representatives stating the same cessation formula. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower)
  3. February 4.
  4. See Document 33.
  5. Washington Post columnist Robert Estabrook’s story of February 3 discussed the contacts in Warsaw that would have led to direct negotiations between the DRV and the United States if not for ill-timed U.S. bombing raids. It was reported in circular telegram 131700, February 4. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. In telegram 131734 to Moscow, February 5, Rusk requested that Guthrie also convey orally that since it was nearly Tet, the matter required the utmost urgent response from the North Vietnamese. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)